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Only Revolutions

by Mark Z. Danielewski

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Only Revolutions
This second creation by Mark Z. Danielewski is an ingenious piece of work. Following in the footsteps of House of Leaves, his dizzying, innovative first novel, Only Revolutions is an epic love story that chronicles the adventures of Sam and Hailey - who are "allways sixteen" and always together. Told in dual, free-verse narratives, the book is a literal tour de force that propels the reader right smack into American history.

Only Revolutions is comprised of two narratives which begin on opposite ends of the book, upside-down from one another. You first meet Sam on November 22, 1863, amidst the American Civil War, or Hailey on November 22, 1963 during the Civil Rights movement, depending on which side of the book you open.
Starting in a large font, Sam and Hailey each get exactly half a page and 180 words each, but the type gets smaller and smaller as the story nears the end. The publisher suggests reading eight pages of the narrative and flipping over (the reader is kindly provided with 2 bookmarks as well --green for Sam and gold for Hailey, to facilitate this process). There is also a timeline running down the inner margins of each page outlining historical world events. More often that not, the events in the timeline coincide with Sam and Hailey's encounters. The timeline however, becomes blank as of January 18, 2006 even though their story progresses up until the year 2063. As an added artistic touch, the page numbers are printed within a circle and revolve when you go through the pages flip-book style.

Told in whimsical, alliterative, and poetic verses, Sam and Hailey's story unfolds as they drive through America in a succession of ever-changing cars - a Model T, a Mustang, a Porsche, and even a Toyota. As they careen through time and travel across America, they have several encounters that threaten and undermine their love for one another.
There is Hailey's on-going attraction to The Creep (who embodies America's military power), their bemusing stay at a hospital following a drug overdose, Sam and Hailey's stint working in a St. Louis diner, several parties, and their failed attempt to get married. They are constantly trying to outrun THEM -- "the peril pursuing US."

In the beginning, their respective narratives are amusingly dissimilar. In one instance, Sam describes one of their intimate moments and is particularly proud of how much Hailey is enjoying it. On the flipside, Hailey describes the same moment and Sam's lack of sexual prowess. As the narratives move on, however, they begin to converge and become almost the same voice. Although "allways sixteen," Sam and Hailey do mature which is evident in their relationship. When their narratives meet in the middle, there is a poignant exchange between the two as they discuss the future of "US." Through it all, they stay committed to one another as they lovingly proclaim: "Sam is mine, and I am his," and "I'll never quit Hailey."
Aside from being a love story rivaling that of Romeo and Juliet (or rather, Bonnie and Clyde), Only Revolutions is also an allegory and a novel, modernistic take on the creation myth. Sam and Hailey is "US" and their story chronicles the trials and tribulations of a fledgling nation. Perhaps this is why Danielewski opens the narratives with the phrase "You were there" to remind the reader that you were and still are part of Sam and Hailey's wild ride.

This will undoubtedly infuriate and annoy some readers as it doesn't follow the typical narrative structure of a novel; folks may very well be turned-off by the seemingly nonsensical verses; several words are purposefully misspelled or altogether made up, and it will take a while to get used to reading the story. Those willing to invest in an experimental novel and those who liked House of Leaves will certainly be impressed with Only Revolutions. For others, it may not be worth the trip.

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